Proper 4, Year A
June 2, 2002
Old St. Paul’s, Baltimore
The Rev. Timothy E. Schenck
Old St. Paul’s is a house of prayer built on sand. And as Jesus just told us, that’s not a good thing. In our Gospel reading he contrasts those who hear and act upon God’s word with those who hear but fail to act upon God’s word. The one who takes God’s commandments to heart is like a wise man who builds his house upon rock. When a violent storm rises the house remains intact. But the one who fails to truly hear God’s commandments is like a foolish man who builds his house upon sand. When the storm comes the house falls to pieces. So when I say that Old St. Paul’s is a house of prayer built on sand, I may ruffle a few feathers around here. But fortunately I don’t mean this in the metaphorical sense. I’m not suggesting that our founding fathers were foolish or that we ourselves are fools. I mean it in the sense that this church is literally built on sand. And the renovation project in the undercroft that will temporarily disrupt our lives this summer is a great reminder of this fact. I kept hearing that this place was built on sand, but when you peer down into what will become the new elevator shaft you can see that this is actually true. This is a house of prayer built on sand.
It’s helpful to think about foundations every now and then. So often we take them for granted. If a building seems to be standing on its own, why bother looking at the foundation? We assume everything’s fine. And if a person seems to be functioning relatively well we don’t see a need to examine what’s beneath the surface. But when we talk about foundations, we need to ask ourselves what is at the heart of who we are as individuals and as a community? What are the core values upon which everything else stands? What reinforces our lives? Are our foundations built upon rock or sand?
If the Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord, as the hymn says, the same must be said for each one of us. Jesus must be the very foundation of our lives. Easy to say, harder to turn into reality. Because for most of us our foundations are a composite of materials. There’s some faith, some ego, some insecurity, some hope, and some fear. The Christian who can rise to his or her full stature of faith is the one who allows Christ to be the single most important building block of our complex foundations.
I don’t have any sort of aptitude for architecture or construction. The worst grade I ever got in my academic career was in the Gilman shop department. And I confess that I have no concept of how any building gets built. Where do you start? A hole in the ground? Then what? It makes no sense to me. But I do know that a foundation is critical. This isn’t a great insight on my part but when my three-old builds a tower with his blocks, if there isn’t a solid foundation, it comes toppling down. Though, even if there is, he usually knocks it down anyway. The point is that foundations are important and it takes a turning inward to examine them and a turning upward to repair them.
Fortunately, it’s never too late to shore up the foundations of our faith. We all need some repair work every now and then. We need to let God, who is the ultimate builder after all, do some patching and reinforcing. We don’t need an overpriced architectural consultant to examine our individual foundations. We just need to ask ourselves several questions. What is the condition of my own spiritual foundation? What is it that my life is ultimately built upon? If we can answer “Jesus Christ,” we’re well on our way. And even if we can simply answer “I’d like it to be Jesus Christ,” we’re headed in the right direction.
Today, after we exchange the Peace, we will honor and thank the participants in our Sunday School program. And there is nothing more foundational than allowing our children to engage the Christian faith, to ask questions, and to grow in their knowledge and love of the Lord. This is the firm foundation that will allow them to withstand the storms of this life and to know the central truth of Christ’s presence in their lives. Our teachers are the wise builders who lay the building blocks upon which all else stands. And there is no ministry as important as this one. As we heard Moses tell the people in the passage from Deuteronomy, “Teach these commandments to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise…You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead.” It is imperative that we share the story of our faith with the youngest Christians among us. It is one of our deepest responsibilities. By September the renovation project will yield a number of benefits to the communal life of this parish. One of these is the impact on the Sunday School program. There will be attractive classrooms with real walls and closets and the message to the kids and teachers alike will be that this place takes seriously its commitment to the young people of Old St. Paul’s. The children in our Sunday School are not an adjunct piece of this community but a fully integral one. Ask any teacher in our Sunday School and he or she will tell you that they learn more from the children about God than they can ever teach them. This is foundational work for our kids and a ministry that shores up the spiritual foundations of our teachers.
This church building may well be built on sand. But our faith must be built on rock. We can leave it to the professionals to make sure that this building doesn’t collapse but it is our responsibility, with God’s help, to make sure our own foundations can withstand the temptations and trials of this life.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2002